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How to introduce Irregular Past Tenses to Young Learners (from 11 to 13 y.o.) Silvia Fusi Scuola Frassati – Seveso (MB)

You can start from any text (oral or written) you have in your course book or in your lesson plans. Usually students like short thrillers or mystery stories. The one I chose was easy but the students enjoyed it.


The aim of these lessons is to get students to find the past tenses of verbs themselves.


Students approaching this text were already familiar with the simple past tense of be (was and were). They had already listened to a story in the past and already understood that something “changes” in the verb when you talk about past actions.


Choose a text which: a. is interesting for your students; b. contains the past of the verb to be, of some common regular verbs and of some common irregular ones; c. is easy enough to be understood by your students without too much help from you.

NB. The following activities took 3 lessons to teach irregular verbs plus 2 for regular ones. Remember you need a few days to practise using the verbs.

STEP 1 Reading, Comprehension and verb detection o The students start by reading the story; o Then they use the chart both to work out and match the infinitives to their past forms; o After filling in the chart, you make them notice some spelling rules for regular forms (silent “e”, “y”); o Students use the verbs to complete part 2. Excerpt taken from Doff – Jones “Relay” Loescher / CUP 2001

STEP 1 Listening Comprehension and Verb detection o You can ask your students to describe the picture and try to make up a suitable ending; o Then students listen to the end of the story; curiosity plays a big role! o They complete the exercise; o You help them “listen” to new past forms (told, wrote, came) and understand the interrogative sentences (“Were you awake?”, “Did you see anything?”); Excerpt taken from Doff – Jones “Relay” Loescher / CUP 2001

STEP 2 Organizing knowledge to learn quicker and better REGULAR VERBS Prepare a few lessons in which you’ll teach: -spelling rules; --ed pronunciation (suggested activity on the right; students can work in groups; you provide pronunciation and help). Working on pronunciation will make students aware that some irregular verbs get their “rules” from pronunciation (such as built, smelt, spent…)


E P 2

IRREGULAR VERBS Now ask students to look at the irregular verbs they have met so far and classify them into “families”: - The ones which don’t change (we say they are a Happy Family); - Those ending in –ought (e.g. bring – brought –brought); remember to include teach (tAught) and catch (cAught) in this family (we say they are“the different twins”); - Those with a vowel change (i.e. sing – sang – sung)



Ask students to create and fill in charts on paper or on the computer which they can keep. Make sure they leave some empty spaces for new verbs. There are some more examples on the right.


Even though you are not going to use the past participle form, make students learn it anyway; it will be harder later.

o Each time you find a “new” verb with your students, ask

them to put it in the right file. o Test them frequently on the verbs you meet in context. o Their files will grow very quickly. o You’ll be impressed when you realize how soon they learn

by themselves to detect irregular verbs and “predict” the past forms.

Irregular Past Tenses to Young Learners  

Irregular Past Tenses to Young Learners

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